As the late dawn arrived I pulled back my bedroom curtains at the Caledonian Hilton in Edinburgh to see the sun wreathing the magnificent castle with a mantle of gold. Below, the city was still shrouded in the cold clasp of night and in the ancient graveyard to my left, a lone dog, anxious for its owner to throw its ball, barked.
A solitary tower soared skywards at the entrance. It was a stark reminder of the days of old when a watchman surveyed the cemetery below, keeping an eye out for body snatchers coming in the chill dead of night to dig up the fresh corpses to sell to medical students for their anatomy class. But this morning as the sun rose to its winter zenith and as Scotland's capital city of crept slowly to life, all was long forgotten. I had come to Scotland to take a coach tour of the highlights of Edinburgh, along with a whistle stop jaunt to Glasgow, and to explore the delights of the Old Kingdom of Fife and Perthshire. The purpose was to get an overview so that when I returned I could spend time at a more leisurely pace at places that I found particularly interesting.
Although a compact country, Scotland needs to be discovered slowly, for wherever you go, history surrounds you and cries out to be unearthed. Each area is filled to overflowing with wonderful sites to visit. In Edinburgh, all the tour buses follow a similar pattern taking in the must see attractions, which include a ride on Princes, the famous shopping street, and glimpses of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Park, the Scottish Parliament, and the major museums and art galleries. Since the tour was ambitious, I was only able to explore the castle, a hauntingly beautiful edifice filled with ghostly stories where you can spend a full day. The Honors of Scotland, the Scottish Crown Jewels, is another highlight. Hidden away for centuries, Sir Walter Scott gained permission to break into the room where the jewels were thought to be stored. It must have been awesome to look upon the finery.
|Local children dressed in historical costume, Hopetoun House
While you sit in a whisky barrel, the recently refurbished Scotch Whisky Experience introduces the process of making the golden nectar. A tasting tutorial was followed by a visit to a 3500-bottle display in the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection of unique whiskies. No samples were proffered, but instead we all sipped a smooth whisky cocktail.
If you're lucky enough to be in capital in August, you will be privileged to view some of the presentations on the roster of the internationally famed Fringe Festival. Indeed, Edinburgh prides itself in being the festival capital of the world, and also holds many celebrations all year long.
Apart from seeing the sites and tasting the whisky, I also came to Scotland to enjoy the food. Edinburgh was a revelation as far as the cuisine was concerned. With a little added magic from some very imaginative chefs, freshness and flavor were the key ingredients. I visited a good cross section of restaurants and the odd bar. At my hotel, the Hilton Caledonian, I found the Caley Bar to be ideal for a quiet relaxing pub experience and the elegant Pompadour Restaurant perfect if you wanted great Scottish or International dishes. I also found the Cucina, located in the designer chic Hotel Missoni, to be quite good. A creamy risotto to die for is served here. In addition, I recommend the dry-aged rib-eye steak on the menu at the rustic Bistro in the Hotel du Vin.
Years ago Glasgow was considered very much the poor relation to the very up-market Edinburgh. Nowadays, the tables are slowly turning and Glasgow is becoming a must-visit destination in its own right. It was designated the European City of Culture in 1990 and UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999. Ignore the best shopping in Scotland. Ignore the superb art galleries and museums. Ignore the 70-plus green parks, and ignore some of the finest dining in the land – at your peril.
|Falconry, Hopetoun House
Glasgow simply overflows with photo opportunities and you could easily spend a few days roaming the city – look to the rooftops for a different perspective. The architecture is impressive – the University, Glasgow Necropolis, Kelvingrove Museum and even the modern bridge, affectionately called the 'Quirky' Bridge capture the imagination. However, I only had a day and was on a coach trip from Edinburgh, which focused on the more cultural aspects of the city.
The unique Burrell Collection, housing works by Degas and Rodin, and other priceless artifacts, were purchased by one man, Sir William Burrell. He spent his lifetime collecting. The result is breathtaking in its artistic scope and its eclectic use of a custom-built museum. This repository demands at least a day to browse, savor, and delight in. Situated in parkland, you can wander in the fresh air, oblivious to the city close by.
We stopped at The House for an Art Lover, the amazing home of the acclaimed artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Linger in the café or small gift shop and buy Mackintosh memorabilia. My grand daughter will be the proud owner of a Mackintosh umbrella.
Unfortunately, tide and time waits for no man, and, after a delightful luncheon (the hake with a warm squid vinaigrette was scrumptious) in the newly opened Blythewood Hotel, formerly the Royal Automobile Club, we had to leave for the return journey to our home base.
Another day was spent in the Kingdom of Fife, the land of golf. No golfer, within striking distance, can resist a visit to the home of golf, St. Andrews. To play on the links is akin to being on hallowed ground for aficionados of the sport.
The Old Course Hotel is strewn with memorabilia about the game and offers some of the finest views over the famous course. Dining there is, quite naturally, superb and offers a variety of options, including the delightful Jigger Bar, once home to the Station Master, and now an atmospheric pub with traditional food. We dropped by for one more "wee dram." At the Road Hole Restaurant we savored the most delicious special cauliflower soup, and with coffee, the best rich fudge, ever.
|A quiet corner of a pub
We also visited the new Fairmount Hotel with its sweeping views of the sea and the golf courses. I was glad to find out that they do special packages for golfers. My husband will be keen to see the brochures. The Scottish courses are so wild and windy that even Tiger Woods has had a few problems on them.
On the following morning we headed out towards Perthshire. Crossing the Firth of Forth is an amazing experience, especially if the mist swirls and envelopes the mighty suspension rail and road bridges. One moment the sea is below and the next you feel as if you're floating in the clouds. On this driech day -- grey/dull/miserable for the Scots -- we went to Hopetoun House, a magnificent mansion and the epitome of elegance and aristocratic taste. Although the family now inhabits only a wing of the mansion, and the remainder is open to the public, it really feels lived in. Indeed, the custodians are emphatic that the house will always be a living venue. For example, the local children dress up to learn how their counterparts of yesteryear worked in the kitchens, cleaned the chimneys, and scrubbed floors.
Here we saw a falconry display – and came up close and personal with a magnificent bald eagle – who had real attitude and constantly seemed to be quarreling with his handler whom he considered his father.
To be this near the most iconic bird in the USA might lead to a criminal charge, but in Scotland we could legally touch this beautiful creature. None of the group went close for the talons and beak guaranteed more than a few cuts and grazes. Nothing else took my breath away more than watching the noble bird, so completely relaxed. To say it was totally awesome is an understatement.
The night was passed at the gloriously situated Dunkeld Hilton on the River Tay with its parklands and dramatic backdrop of hills. As I walked along the river, sunbeams peeped though the grey skies and danced on the turbulent river waters. Fishermen come from worldwide to fish for salmon on the hotel's private stretch of bank.
Numerous activities can be arranged from Dunkeld, including outdoor pursuits organized by Highland Safaris. My group went off road in 4x4's. We met at the Kenmore Hotel for a briefing before we piled into our land rovers, lined up with military precision outside the gates to Taymouth Castle. Our drivers, braving the winter's cold in kilts, soon had us at our ease as they skillfully drove the 4x4's, storming around the twists and turns of the rugged countryside. Guests are encouraged to drive the vehicles. For novices there's an easy track, but skilled and experienced drivers are challenged by water, mud, and sheer rock courses.
|Burrell Collection Gallery
We stopped to admire the glorious view of the valley beneath, and, with true Scottish hospitality, a wee dram was offered to all. The driver proposed a toast - 'Slainte vhar' (to health), and we instantly felt the warm glow of the precious liquid keep the chill in the air at bay, as it smoothly slipped down our throats.
We then moved on to Dewar's Distillery where more drams were in order and a 28-year-old cask was uncorked for tasting. Heaven even for a non-whisky drinker like me. The visit was intriguing and brought together all the things we had learned in Edinburgh about the whisky process.
After a traditional luncheon at the restored Menzies Castle, the afternoon pace slowed. The entree was succulent venison, a dish the local lairds might have enjoyed after a morning shooting grouse or pheasant. We also had a few light-hearted moments before leaving the Castle – tossing a grouse to hit the prize of a whisky bottle, dressing a muscular Highlander in his kilt, and learning how to play the bagpipes.
A gala dinner at the impressive Blair Castle ended a fantastic day with exhausting Scottish country dancing, a recitation of "Address to the Haggis," written by the immortal Robbie Burns, and with the pipe band playing the haunting melodies of old.
|Black Labs waiting patiently for the gun dog display
On the last day we journeyed, to our final destination – Gleneagles. Here, in the heartland of Scotland, the golf heath courses are known throughout the world for their complexity and challenging terrain. The Dormy Golf Club has seen all the greats of the game pass thought its doors. Silver trophies polished to perfection adorn the corridors of the hotel.
I went for a lesson on archery and tried my hand at clay pigeon shooting. I hit two out of five and winged one on my first attempt. Target shooting proved more challenging, but I acquitted myself well with three out of five target hits. In the cold and gloom of a Scottish day sighting was hard, but telescopic sights and a patient instructor helped.
We were also treated to a gun dog display. Midnight black Labrador retrievers showed us their serious side by behaving well in the driving rain and waiting with uncharacteristic patience for their handler to call them in or fetch a target. Often their inborn exuberance broke free and they buried their noses in our handbags and pockets, looking, as is natural for them for a sweet treat.
I only had a 'Taste of Scotland' on this trip – yet what a taste!
"Haste ye back" my coach driver said. I certainly will.
The most prized of all game fish,
salmon and trout, are the ones that inspire an image of an angler whipping a
lure and line in serpentine arcs above a Scottish loch. Despite the cold, windy
and rainy January weather, when the season opens sportspeople don bulky rubber
waders up to their waists and try their luck in freshwater streams and lakes.
You can fish all over the world, in Chile, Alaska, Canada, and Colorado, too.
But there is nothing like the romance of being hosted by a "laird" on his stretch
of water. Despite untold fishing opportunities in Scottish river systems, the
names Tay and Tweed are poetry.
"The Tay, meand’ring, sweet in infant
pride, The Palace rising on its verdant side," was penciled on the parlor chimney
piece at the Inn at Kenmore on the Loch Tay by Robert Burns in
|Parade to the river, Kenmore (Credit:Edwin Fancher)
In Kenmore, a village anchoring
the eastern end of Loch Tay and the western point of the River Tay, the
season begins on the 15th of January and closes in October. The calendar, not
the climate, determines opening day for that is the point in time of a fish’s
life cycle when it reaches its home pool to spawn.
The 9 a.m. ceremony in the crowded square, witnessed by locals, visitors, officials and the press started with several short speeches and was preceded by dramming (like in sipping a wee dram). For the second year Dewar’s Whiskey sponsored the event. Located in the nearby town of Aberfeldy, the company, represented by red-capped employees, warmed the chilled assemblage by passing shots of White Label scotch in quaiches, silver doubled-handled drinking bowls.
Accompanied by the Vale of Atholl
Pipe Band dressed in traditional kilts, the group strolled to the water. Fiona
Armstrong, a noted fisherwoman and reporter for Scotland’s Sky TV, poured a
quaiche of Uisager Beathe (Gaelic for "water of life" or whiskey) over
the brow of the first boat to wish the fishermen "tight lines." She then joined
Andrew McTaggert, the laird, and a ghillie (fishing guide) to motor to the middle
of the river. Armstrong cast the first line and several more with good sportsmanship,
but with no success.
Highland Adventure Safaris transported
novice fishermen to the banks of the loch and provided ghillies, equipment and
instruction. All were surprised at how quickly they took to the sport and how
exhilarating were the few hours spent tossing the lines into the water at beats
named Chinese, battery and castle. Paul Fishloch (call him Fish), a most unflappable
teacher, said that patience is a required trait for fishermen.
|Dramming in Kenmore Square
The Tay District is promoting
a conservation program. Fish may be tagged, photographed with the proud people
who caught them and then released. On the 15th of January, the most successful
angler, Jock Armstrong, bagged a 10-pounder at 4 p.m., dusk in this locale. Although
he had traveled to Aberfeldy with only his sports clothes, he was invited to
the black tie (usually kilt rather than tux) celebration to receive the Redford
Andrew McTaggert owns many miles of land in the vicinity as well as Taymouth Castle. Started by the Campbell clan in the early 1800s, the castle, now empty and in need of extensive repair, does, nevertheless, house many unusual artifacts, including a library with a 24-carat gold ceiling. Victoria and Albert spent part of their honeymoon at Taymouth and the movie "Mrs. Brown" was filmed here.
Located on the grounds of its Aberfeldy
distillery, Dewar’s World of Whiskey is a Disneyesque interactive exhibit
and museum. The eponymous Dewar’s was founded in the early 1800s by brothers
Tommy and Johnny. After viewing a short visual presentation of the brand’s history
in the auditorium, visitors step into "The Street" to learn more about the family
and the evolution of the business. An audio guide explains the displays. A touch-tone
computer challenges the user to combine the correct proportions of several ingredients
to blend the perfect scotch. And if you can’t get it right, the man with the
sly wit inside the computer will tease you. Dewar’s stylish advertising posters,
often humorous and centering on the upper-classes, are on view as are family-owned
art, furniture and other possessions. www.dewarswow.com
Through smelling, eyeing and tasting
at the store’s nosing and tasting bar, you learn what makes a great scotch.
A tour of the distillery takes guests through the process of distilling and
blending single malt whiskey.
|Fishing at Castle Beat, Aberbeldy
The Kenmore Hotel, dating
from 1572 and headquarters for the opening of the season, is said to be the
oldest inn in Scotland. Sir Colin Campbell granted a lease to his servant Hay
Stanes for "an honest hostelrie," which should at all times have sufficient
bread and other provisions. While dining on a full Scottish breakfast—eggs,
ham, black pudding, sausage, grilled tomato and mushrooms—you can enjoy a panoramic
view including the historic arched bridge. The evening menu features some wonderful
specialties such as venison, several types of salmon (what else), whiskey infused
ice cream and good bread, as dictated by Sir Campbell. The haggis—don’t say
ugh, yet—which we approached with apprehension, was served in Yorkshire pudding
and was the best we tasted in Scotland.
The bars and lounges are quintessentially
British countryside. The simple rooms are adequate.
Kenmore Hotel, The Square, Kenmore, Perthshire. Tel. 01887-830-205. Rates are reasonable. www.kenmorehotel.com
Fishing information, www.fishingnet.com
Kenmore lies midway between Scotland’s two great metropolises, Glasgow and Edinburgh, approximately 40 miles from each. Our journey away from the Highlands and its heathered hills took us to Glasgow, a city whose artistic riches and newly hip bar and club scene should help erase its dreary image as a center devoted solely to trade. Glasgow has awakened from a post-industrial slumber and discovered its worthy past, one made up of great swaths of parks, splendid museums and rows of stately Georgian and Victorian buildings. Dramatic new construction, the Science Centre and the "Armadillo Auditorium" near the River Clyde, has changed the landscape.
The red double-decker "City Sightseeing
Glasgow" bus makes 20 stops. On the drive through the fashionable West End
and along Bythewood Square, a private park bounded by gracious townhouses,
the grime fades and is replaced by proper British facades like the ones along
the lovely streets of London and Dublin. Glasgow University, with its
tower poking towards the sky, turreted roof, ancient walls and leafy campus
projects the faithful appearance of an institute of higher learning that was
established in the 16th century.
|Art Gallery & Museum, Kelvingrove
Art and architecture play a vital role in Glasgow’s developing tourist business. Who can match the neoclassical monuments of Alexander Thompson, the Victorian forerunner of Frank Lloyd Wright? His masterpieces were crafted in a deeply idiosyncratic Greek style with modern touches. Who can compete with Glasgow’s Art Deco nonpareil, Charles Rennie Mackintosh? He left a trail of work in museums, public buildings, furniture collections and private houses open to visitors.
Major art museums are chock full
of surprises. At Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Goya, Botticelli
and Rembrandt hang on the walls. Hunterian Art Gallery owns the largest
gathering of works by James Abbott McNeil Whistler outside the United States.
Southwest of the city in an airy exhibition hall in Pollok Park is the
eclectic Burrell Collection. A testament to the exquisite taste of Sir
William Burrell, a shipping magnet, it contains Chinese porcelain, medieval
furniture, Greek and Roman sculptures, paintings by Rembrandt and Manet, Degas
pastels and Rodin’s "The Thinker."
|Exhibit, Glasgow Science Centre
The Glasgow Cathedral, a pre-reformation building dates from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Its finest features are the stone choir screen and fan-vaulting around the crypt of St. Mungo.
The Science Centre may soon draw
the largest crowds in the city due to its absorbing exhibits. The center has
an IMAX cinema that shows four different films each day. The planetarium
also runs four varied presentations daily. The Virtual Science Theatre
takes audiences through molecules, around their own bodies and into space. Four
floors of the Mall are devoted to 150 hands-on dynamic experiments.
The Tourist Board of Scotland has
designated the granite and glass Hilton Glasgow, the tallest hotel in
the country, as the only five-star accommodation in City Centre.
Many patrons are business travelers and attendees at evening events who stay
overnight. Americans with exacting standards might rate the hotel as four-star.
Lack of in-room safes and the need to phone for a shoe shine weighs on the rating.
The attractive modern decor is pleasant, the rooms and baths are more than ample
and the large lobby holds enough seating for guests to gather. Glaswegians are
most friendly and this trait is evidenced by a willing staff.
Three facilities at the hotel stand
out. The Living Well Health Club has many excellent services—pool, well-equipped
gymnasium, sauna, steam room and solarium. The executive lounge for the
concierge floors is open all day offering breakfast, snacks, tea, hors d’oeurve
and continuous complimentary bar. Cameron’s, the hotel’s premier restaurant,
Hilton Glasgow, 1 William St.,
Tel. 44-0-141-204-5555. Reasonable. www.hilton.com/glasgow
Cameron’s, at the Hilton, received
the tourist board’s Four Medallion Award. The setting, a gracious dining room
reminiscent of a Georgian home, is elegant; the service impeccable; and the
cooking both beautiful to look at and full of grace notes. For example, rack
of lamb, fork-tender beef fillet and saddle of rabbit came with a host of complementary
tastes and textures. Appetizers and desserts were brilliantly inventive. The
wines were beautiful and the sommelier did a credible job of helping us with
our selections. This high-style cooking was as commendable as any you’ll find
Cameron’s, Dinner, Monday to Saturday. Expensive.
City Merchant was given a
Two Medallion Award. What it has going for it are a warm and welcoming family
of owners and a quaint and cheerful ambiance on one and one-half levels. Brick
and wood-paneled walls are hung with old-fashioned equipment used in the country’s
popular sports—ski poles, nets, fishing rods, binoculars and a stuffed grouse,
the prize from a shooting expedition. The restaurant is very popular and on
the night we were there only patrons with reservations were seated.
An appetizer of woodland mushrooms,
fresh ginger and honey was both earthy and had punch. Papaya accompanied smoked
salmon and fish roe. Blackboard specials of grilled fish and choose your own
sauce were poorly conceived. The four sauces were offered for meat and poultry,
too, and did not combine well with the dry and bland fish. But the sticky toffee
pudding was an over the top rendition of this favorite among British desserts.
The cake was moist, spongy, and flecked with dates. And the sauce had an intense
City Merchant Restaurant, 97-99 Candleriggs.Tel. 0141-533-1588. Monday to Saturday.12:00 to 10:30. Expensive. www.citymerchant.co.uk
|The Willow Tearooms
Charles Rennie Macintosh designed
and decorated The Willow Tea Rooms, including the exterior, layout and
furnishings. Opened in 1903, it stayed in business until 1928. During that heyday,
the tearoom covered five floors. Because of the unique silver high back chairs
and leaded mirror friezes done in Macintosh’s Art Deco style, seats in the Room
du Luxe were the most desirable in the eatery. Although a store now occupies
the street level, in 1983 Anne and David Mulhern faithfully reconstructed the
remainder of the space. The menu is extensive and much like that of a luncheonette
or diner in the States. Choose from a selection of sandwiches, salads, savories,
muffins, desserts and drinks. Yes, afternoon tea is served, too. However, the
name may have included Tea Rooms because the original owner was a temperance
advocate and perhaps she wanted to alert the public that no spirits were served
on the premises.
Willow Tearooms, 21 Sauchiehall St., Tel. 0141-332-0521. Monday to Saturday, 9:30 to 4:30, Sunday, 12:00 to 4:30. Reasonable. www.willowtearooms.com
|The Old Rectory Room at the Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh
From Glasgow it is a mere 45-minute
by train or one and one-half hours by car to Edinburgh, the hub of royal and
bloody Scotland. In the heart of the old section a plug of volcanic stone, Castle
Rock, serves as the pedestal for Edinburgh Castle, the stalwart symbol
of Scottish existence. Very much a place of history, Queen Elizabeth was given
a 21-gun salute at this site when in 1999 she opened the new Scottish parliament
to return the country to partial self-rule. The castle has been layered and
amended for centuries. A self-guided audio tour lasts four and one-half hours.
The narrator could not otherwise spin out all the volumes about bravery, sieges,
plagues and scandal.
The castle being the most important attraction and the centerpiece around which the city spreads, you will be fortified with background material if you start your sightseeing here. The compactness of Edinburgh is a great asset. Scots are famous for being walkers and Edinburgh is a most walkable city. The openness of the people is legendary and we met more than one pedestrian who eagerly wished to converse.
Stretching from the castle in a nearly
straight line is The Royal Mile, a shop-lined cobblestone street. Assuming
four different names in the process, it ends at The Palace of Holyrood House,
the home of Mary Stuart and the residence where Her Majesty stays during official
visits. On the same site is the dazzling new Scottish Parliament building,
already a popular tourist magnet. The technologically advanced government body
links to its constituencies through public electronic kiosks and home TVs. Across
the road is Holyrood Park, five square miles of hills and open spaces.
|The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
At Charlotte Square the Georgian elegance and aristocratic harmony of New Town shines. Robert Adams’s architectural masterpieces, a monumental collection of five long palace-like facades, were built here. Georgian House at No. 7 is open part of the year. The National Gallery of Scotland draws an appreciative public to old masters such as Titian, Holbein, Rubens, Vermeer and El Greco. These are but a smattering of the exciting things to see in Edinburgh. A trip on the hop on and off bus provides a bird’s-eye description of many of the churches, palaces and historic houses and buildings. The ease of getting around on foot, not withstanding, our knowledgeable guide made the bus experience more than worthwhile.
Since we don’t live in a castle, we don’t need a butler. Neither is on our radar screen. Nevertheless, we were tickled when we arrived at The Howard to be told that Ian would be our personal butler. Never mind, that we preferred to do our own unpacking, packing and so forth. It was fun to play Mr. and Mrs. Swell. Had we been in at tea time we might have had Ian serve us in the Drawing Room.
The stay at The Howard is recalled as a treasured memory. Cobbled together from three terraced townhouses that were originally built in the 1820s for wealthy burghers, the Town House Company, owners of four boutique hotels, restored the patrician mien of this hostelry after acquiring it a few years back. There is no reception area in the front hall, the better to focus on a sweeping central staircase winding up to a high ceiling. The Howard disguises any trappings of a hotel. One feels rather as though he/she is in the home of a discerning collector who has amassed crystal chandeliers, antiques, leather-bound books, paintings and ceramic dogs to guard the massive marble fireplace.
Our oversized suite impressed, too.
It was furnished with a veneer-covered credenza, sofa table, desk, lamp tables,
sofa and chairs, none of which had a commercial look, and artifacts that included
a bust sculpture. It was homey in a luxe way. There was a half-canopied bed
and the bathroom had top-notch fixtures—plus-sized deep tub and separate circular
The renowned Café Florian,
located in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, is opening a branch at The Howard.
The Howard, 34 Great King Street,
Tel. 0131 557 3500. Moderately expensive. www.thehoward.com
During our stay at The Howard, Ian
would have served the evening meal in the suite as most guests prefer their
butler to do. We chose to eat in the restaurant, The Atholl. It turned
out to be our own private dining room as we were the only ones taking dinner
there that evening. Although, the restaurant does not advertise, it will accept
outside patrons. All the food was exceedingly well prepared and exploded with
tantalizing flavors. Char-grilled vegetables and smoked duck gave the meal a
heady start. The salmon and beef were flat out great. And the lemon tart and
chocolate torte were irresistible. Each perfect course helped create a most
The Atholl at The Howard, Dinner
7 to 9, Monday to Sunday. Moderately expensive.
History, seductive food and a beguiling
atmosphere make The Witchery by the Castle one of the most sought after
reservations in town. The storied 1595 building in Boswell’s Court borders
on the end of Royal Mile near the castle. The proprietor offers three singular
experiences in the three dining rooms. The oak-paneled walls, hung with tapestries,
mirrors and carvings in The Witchery, the most formal space of all, were
rescued from a cathedral and a French chateaux. Gilded ceilings, somewhat like
those at The Palace of Holyrood, antique leather screens
and rich burgundy seating are appropriate to the heritage of the stone edifice.
The Secret Garden has its own splendid embellishments and is lit solely by candles.
The carved ceiling, painted with tarot symbols is similar to the Museum of
Scotland’s Rossend ceiling. Three room-height fan windows lead to a topiary-
and urn-filled terrace. The Secret Garden alsohas its own mascot, a mischievous
bagpipe-playing cherub, whose image is reproduced throughout. A sister property,
The Tower atop the landmark Museum of Scotland, skips ahead a few centuries
into a sleek and contemporary mode with aluminum furniture, a mosaic bar and
tweed banquettes. Edinburgh’s first rooftop restaurant and terrace, it has spectacular
views of the skyline and castle.
The menu at The Witchery offers a
mix of adventurous and traditional Scottish dishes. Warm home-smoked salmon
was the best preparation of this fish that we had in all of Scotland. The filet had
been cooked over wood, which imparted a delicate smokiness. Roasted celeriac
and curried apple soup was tangy and a fit antidote for a cold day. The wild
mushroom crust on the Aberdeen Angus beef gave it a snappy twist. The accompaniment,
balsamic roasted root vegetables, perked up this entree. Confit of wild rabbit
was nicely paired with two sides—Savoy cabbage and bacon and mashed potatoes,
seasoned with garlic and parsley. Desserts are mouth watering. The plate of
puddings included a torte, parfait and creme brulee of varying flavors.
To satisfy a yen for sticky toffee
pudding, you’ll have to go to The Tower where a heavenly version is served with
whiskey and brown-bread ice cream. This restaurant has a different menu from
the dining rooms at The Witchery by the Castle.
Ask reception to show you a few of the six guest suites, decorated to the nines in dramatic Baroque style. Each is named and contains many unusual and colorful furnishings purchased by the owner on trips around the world.
The Witchery by the Castle, Castlehill,
The Royal Mile. Lunch and dinner. Monday to Sunday. Tel. 0231-225-5613. Moderately
Tower Restaurant, Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Tel. 0131-225-3003. Lunch and Dinner, Monday to Sunday. Moderately expensive. www.tower-restaurant.com
If Queen Victoria had been able to put her beloved Balmoral on rails, she might
have christened it The Royal Scotsman. This luxury hotel train, which majestically
steams through the fabled Scottish Highlands, travels back in time to the
age of the regal Victorians. For five days perfectly-appointed antique carriages,
restored and modernized to their original splendor, are home to a maximum of 32 travelers
who are attended by a tartan-dressed staff that could easily serve the occupants
of Buckingham Palace.
The 1000-mile journey begins in Edinburgh on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons
from May through October. The train, painted in royal burgundy livery, makes its
way across the lowlands to Glasgow, ascends into the Highlands, passes through
the central mountains and descends to the coastline of eastern Scotland. The Royal
Scotsman takes its time offering a leisurely exploration of the land of heather and
The Scotsman chugs and hisses through the hills around Tyndrum and then
goes on to Rannoch Manor with its peat bogs, boulders and streams. It passes
Britain's only snowsheds and travels through villages speckled with soft purple hills,
along white sandy beaches, over bridges up to the Isle of Sky, past the battlefield
of Cullen where Bonnie Prince Charlie's cause was crushed and down the coast
A companion bus follows, providing transportation to famous houses, castles and
gardens where visitors enjoy champagne and special tours. These excursions might
include stops at Achnacarry, the 13th-century castle restored by Sir Donald
Cameron; Inverawe Fishery and Smokery; and Glamis castle, ancestral
home of the Queen Mother and the legendary setting for "Macbeth." At the
end of each day the train retires to a country station or quiet siding. Most of the
elegant evenings are formal. After-dinner entertainment includes a Scottish fiddler,
live clarsach music and dancing to the tunes of a Highland band. Then it is on to
a night's rest in the Victorian-style sleeping compartments fitted with brass, polished
burl walnut, etched mirrors and private baths.
European luxury train travel has long been the stuff of dreams. Once the means
of transport for royalty, heiresses and more than a spy or two it speaks of mystery
and perhaps intrigue. Today it has become a nostalgic adventure.
The Royal Scotsman train trips are available through Abercrombie & Kent,